Reunion Island with shared roots to Puducherry looks to forge tourism, cultural ties

A 30-member delegation from Reunion Island was in the city for the dedication ceremony of a renovated memory stele installed in honour of their ancestors on the Pondicherry University campus

August 23, 2022 07:17 pm | Updated 08:22 pm IST - PUDUCHERRY

The Reunion Island delegation in Pondicherry University to dedicate the renovated memory stele in honour of 17th century migrant workers from India.

The Reunion Island delegation in Pondicherry University to dedicate the renovated memory stele in honour of 17th century migrant workers from India. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Well past the sesquicentennial of the Aurélie steamship leaving these shores with the first job-seeking migrants for French archipelagos on the Indian Ocean, Reunion Island and Puducherry are looking to retrace their shared ancestral history, boost tourism and facilitate cultural exchanges. On Monday, a 30-member delegation from Reunion Island was in the city for the dedication ceremony of a renovated memory stele installed in honour of their ancestors on the campus of Pondicherry University and in memory of Indian migrants who left for Réunion Islands, other French overseas territories and British colonies over 200 years ago. The ‘Stele de Memoire’ (16th to 19th centuries) was installed in January 2010, as part of the project ‘Route of Slavery and Indenture’ validated by UNESCO and the GOPIO Reunion, Réunion Region and the HISTORUN Association, under the chairmanship of late Sudel Fuma, and Pondicherry University. The 10th anniversary of the installation ceremony of the memory stele was scheduled to be held in January 2020, but had to be postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The renovated memorial was inaugurated in the gardens of the cultural complex of the University in the presence of about 300 invitees, including the delegation from Reunion Island and representatives of French overseas territories. The delegation later met Tourism Minister K. Lakshminarayanan. “During discussions, both sides were keen to kick-start tourism initiatives and cultural exchange programmes,” said Satish Nallam, president, Alliance Francaise. He was among those who participated in the commemorative event at Pondicherry University.

The renovated memory stele in honour of 16th century Indian migrants to French dominions on the Indian Ocean that was dedicated at Pondicherry University by a delegation from Reunion Island.

The renovated memory stele in honour of 16th century Indian migrants to French dominions on the Indian Ocean that was dedicated at Pondicherry University by a delegation from Reunion Island. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

On the occasion, Gurmeet Singh, Vice Chancellor of the University, appreciated the commemorative effort and said the institution had earmarked funds for renovation of the memorial. A new MoU was envisaged in place of the agreement between the University of Réunion and Pondicherry University in 2010, that will enable the exchange of students and faculty members between two universities and facilitate collaborative research. Carole Josse, French Deputy Consul General, hailed the contributions of the Indian diaspora in the development of Réunion Islands and said that they lived in with perfect harmony with the people of different origins. S. Pannirselvame, Department of French, Pondicherry University, outlined the circumstances on which the memory stele was installed in 2010. Paul Canaguy, president Historun Association, Réunion, Richard Souprayanmestry, president of Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) Reunion Island, Selvame Chancemougane, president of the Réunion Tamil Sangam, Tounia, representative of the Mayor of Sainte-Suzanne, Réunion Island, Elizabeth Ponama, historian, and Antoinette Canaguy, GOPIO secretary, Reunion were present. The visit by the delegation comes amid a recent revival of interest in the shared history between this erstwhile French outpost and Reunion Island where an estimated one third of 8,50,000 population are of Indian/Tamil origin — a boom that followed the abolition of slavery in 1848 and transition to a contractual labour system in British and French dominions. At least two delegations have come — in 2015 and 2016 — to the city to retrace roots and forge partnerships in areas such as heritage conservation. In 2015, a high-level team from Saint-Denis, sent by the Mayor of the capital city, had been here on an exploratory mission to facilitate opening of sectors for collaboration and partnership, even launch twin city initiatives. The same year, Raphael Gastebois, architect and Head, Department of Architecture and Heritage, Department of Cultural Affairs (Indian Ocean region), Reunion Island, was here to study the collapse in 2014 of the landmark 144-year-old Mairie building. The following year saw a 21-member delegation arrive to evaluate prospects of restoring the Pensionnat De Jeunes Filles (Government Girls French High School) on Beach Road. Alliance Francaise also hosted some of the leading Island rock bands at the Fete de Pondicherry festival in 2017 and 2018.

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